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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 774

Mr MILDREN(11.37) —It is quite a pleasure to take part in a debate such as this when there is so much unanimity of feeling about a matter of such importance. I am sure it is because there is nobody in this House today who really fails to understand the major contribution which the rail systems play in Australia's industrial development and the contribution which they make to our economy. Of course, each and every one of us here is also aware of some of the problems which have been inherited as this industry has aged. I think we are also aware of the fact that rail systems throughout the world face the sorts of problems of change which can be dealt with much more easily by other areas of transport which are not built into a total system. While it is certainly very expensive for somebody who wishes to move into the road transport area to buy himself a truck, at least when he buys himself a truck he is not concerned about laying down the roads and, in most instances, he is not concerned about setting up the depots. As a haulier, his relationship is usually with the consigners.

Of course, it is not quite the same with rail as we are dealing with the entire system. Because of that we are dealing with the maintenance of permanent routes, we are constantly dealing with the necessity to upgrade rolling stock and we are dealing with the necessity to compete with other land transport systems which are able to upgrade their facilities and their resources somewhat more easily. So I think it is a matter of credit to our Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris), who is an extraordinarily diligent Minister-I think honourable members on both sides of the House recognise this-an extremely assiduous worker, and a man who probably knows the transport portfolio better than any Minister for Transport has ever known it, that he has made an enormous contribution in every sector of transport. It is a tremendous credit to him that he has been able to get that area of the national rail network which falls under his portfolio's responsibility to make an extremely conscious effort to upgrade its standards and to move towards a far more commercial operation than it has been previously. It is also to the credit of all those who have been involved in this industry-the management and the unions, which have co-operated with the Government in ensuring that Australian National moves with particular targets towards becoming a more commercially oriented enterprise.

The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) indicated earlier in the debate his concern for the degree of co-operation between the Commonwealth and State governments. It must be said that the Minister has shown his determination to forge a very sound relationship between the State governments and the Commonwealth Government through the formation of the Railway Industry Council which has the support of all the States, unfortunately with one exception and that is Queensland. It is to be hoped that ultimately Queensland will concede that it is part of Australia and take part in the workings of the Council.

One of the great difficulties encountered by railway services throughout the world is trying to compete on a profitable basis with other major transport modes. I have already alluded to some of the problems associated with rail transport that one does not necessarily find with road transport systems. Most honourable members will know that profitability has come via the reduction of services which really means the elimination of some services. For instance, for people in the United States that meant the elimination of passenger services from the private system. Ultimately, the Government instrumentality-Amtrak-had to fill the vacuum that was left by the private companies leaving the transport industry and just servicing what areas could be profitable. I think there is a message in that for all of those people who preach privatisation; they ought to look at what happened in the United States.

There also may be an absence of any alternative transport. Obviously, it would be fairly easy to make some kind of a profit if there were no alternative services and there are not very many examples of that. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) has alluded to the novelty effect. I congratulate the Queenscliff tourist railway and all other tourist railways which provide a novelty service. However, they are not mainstream operators and we are not in the business of comparing them. Novelty railways-God bless them-make a big contribution to our tourist industry and that is very good. But we are not in the position of comparing them with the mainstream operators and I think that has to be understood.

One of the targets which Australian National has set itself-it was set by the Minister-is to reduce its operating losses. That is extremely important to the Government because it has been responsible for picking up the tab for the losses. The contribution which the Federal Government has to make has been able to be reduced from an alarming $106m to $64.5m. That indicates the determination not just of the Minister but also of Australian National to get itself on a more commercially viable basis so that it can become responsible for its own destiny.

One of the major challenges that face all those engaged in the rail industry is that of upgrading their rolling stock, their business expertise, efficiency and productivity. As in any other industry that is what has to happen and that is what is happening with Australian National. It is putting into operation the plans which it has devised along this line. It ought to be understood that it is not simply a matter of transporting people from A to B. Today, when railways are stuck with competition from bus lines and air lines they have to make certain that they are able to attract people. People are under absolutely no obligation to use rail transport. We cannot dragoon people on to trains but we want to ensure that they want to travel by train not just because it happens to be cheap. Cheap can also mean nasty and that is the last possible thing which will attract people back on to rail transport. We want to attract people to use rail transport so that they can say: `Boy, I enjoy travelling by train'. Train travel becomes a very attractive holiday in itself. Travelling across the Nullarbor ought to be an exciting experience.

Mr Robert Brown —It is.

Mr MILDREN —That is quite right. It ought to be a very enjoyable experience in itself, not just as a means to an end because it is a large enough journey to be part of someone's holiday. The Government will enhance, through this amending legislation, the possibility of Australian National becoming a part of someone's holi-day, something which he will remember and pass on to somebody else. That is important; in that way it becomes a commercially oriented enterprise. It lets people know that Australian National is part of the tourist industry. We want to attract tourists on to the trains; we want to make that experience something about which people can say: `Anybody who comes to Australia ought to travel by train because it is a great experience'. That is one of the things which the Government had in mind when, in amending the major Act, it introduced certain kinds of entertainments which people will be able to enjoy as they share them with other people. They will be able to say: `You should go along to it'. We also want people from other countries-not just Australian tourists-to say: `There is a great experience in Australia-travelling on the Australian National line'. That is what I think people are tending to do.

When the entertainment carriage is put on to the trains, either on the Ghan or the trains across the Nullarbor, at least they will have videos, sound booths, video games for the children, tables for cards and board games. That may sound a little nineteenth century but it is a little more updated than that. One does not have to carry guns; in fact I am sure one will not be allowed to carry guns.

Mr Nehl —What about a dartboard, John?

Mr MILDREN —That is one of those things to which people seem to have certain objections. There will be a hairdressing salon, souvenir shops and a limited number of poker machines. I must say that I am not terribly good on things such as poker machines. I have an objection to losing so I probably would not spend a great deal of my money on a poker machine but I know there are people who find that those sorts of activities are part and parcel of modern life. It is very innovative, very imaginative, that the Government should, through this legislation, enable Australian National to offer such activities. We cannot talk about reducing our overall debt simply by cutting services, by cutting labour or even by just putting in new plant. We have to talk about encouraging people on to trains.

I also want to make a few points about the problems that face rail transport. Much of the debate has been devoted to looking at the overall problems of rail in this country and the difficulties which the States have. One of the great problems which face people in my area-it is a very serious problem and I am sure any honourable member who happens to have an electorate in rural Australia would agree with me-is the unknown factors relating to freight transport. It is to the Government's credit that it has instituted the Royal Commission into Grain Storage, Handling and Transport. We need to have the body of facts before us so that at least when we address this problem we will be addressing it with up to date data. One of the problems that strike people in electorates such as mine is that farmers are voting with the wheels of their trucks against the use of rail freight. On roads which were built many years ago and have long passed their acceptable life span we now find that instead of having farmers' cars going down those roads, very large transports are hurtling along carrying anything up to 20 or 30 tonnes of wheat. The effect upon the roads is catastrophic. There is no doubt about that. The Minister is aware of this. He is coming to my electorate within the next couple of months and will be discussing the matter with members of the local government there who are particularly concerned.

This is one of the reasons why we have to try to encourage all States to make their rail systems far more efficient in order to attract much more of the bulk freight back to freight trains. If we do not, the enormous costs that will be incurred anyway in upgrading rural roads will be increased out of sight. I think that the Minister is aware of this. I am aware of it and I am sure that all honourable members are aware that we have a very major problem which perhaps metropolitan Australia is not quite as aware of-or if it is aware it is not quite as interested-as those of us who live in rural Australia. It is a major concern to me that we have an increased traffic load using those country roads when, in many instances, if we had more far more efficiency in our rail systems, that transport could be off the roads and on to the rails. One of the facts that people ought to realise is that a 38-tonne pantechnicon has an axle load which is equivalent to about 2,200 motor cars. On a road which was built to take 50, 60 of 100 cars per day, if several of those trucks go over it, it does not take long for wear and tear on that road to show up.

I am not digressing; I am pointing to a very serious matter. All Australians have to take account of it. The rail system has to be seen not as part of our history, but as part of our modern life. If it is to be like that, it has to become a viable alternative to roads. I am sure that this is what our Minister is doing. He is showing the way, along with AN, for the rest of Australia. Since he is doing so, it is now imperative that the rest of Australia comes in behind. This is why the Minister set up such bodies as the Railway Industry Council. I repeat that I want all States to become involved. There is no opting out. The problems are too great. I exhort all people who have any kind of influence in Queensland-probably not a great number of the people here-to try to ensure that the Queensland Government falls in behind the Railway Industry Council so that it also can be part and parcel of the national grid and takes part in the upgrading of Australia's rail system.

I do not want to take up any more of the time of the House because, by and large, this Bill is agreed to by all members of the House. Everybody is excited about the prospect of an enterprise such as this moving towards commercial viability and providing a great example to the rest of Australia, taking its rightful place in the development of the tourist industry. I commend the Bill. I commend Australian National and the Minister for the work that they have done.